Beyond The Whistle 017: Kevin Sutton, Assistant Coach, University of Rhode Island

11 Jul

Beyond The Whistle with Odell McCants

Link to Podcast

BTW 017: Kevin Sutton, Assistant Coach, University of Rhode Island

I’m honored to have as a return guest to Beyond The Whistle, my friend Kevin Sutton, Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach at the University of Rhode Island. Kevin was my very first interview guest, appearing in episode two, “Persistence on the Coaching Career Path”. In that episode, Kevin shared his career journey and how he has woven a path from coaching at two nationally ranked high school programs, to a college coaching career in the Atlantic 10, Big East and ACC.

In some ways, this episode became an unplanned follow up to episode two. Last season at Pitt, Kevin experienced a season no one wishes to have. An 8-24 overall record and winless season in the ACC led to the dismissal of coach Kevin Stallings and the entire Pitt staff, including Kevin.

In this episode Kevin openly shares:

  • His excitement for the opportunity to join the staff of Rhode Island first year head coach David Cox
  • The professional and personal lessons he took away from an 8-24 season
  • What a “WIN” means to him in his coaching career
  • How he spent his time between jobs
  • Taking time to reconnect with family
  • Having the hard conversations with your spouse in order to have a plan for your career
  • The importance of staying relevant in your career
  • Having a plan for your job search so you are networking and pursuing the right opportunities

I’m thankful for Kevin and his candid conversation.

Mentions in this episode

Connect With Kevin Sutton

Connect with Odell McCants

Coach Kevin Sutton to Speak at the 2018 USA Basketball Southern California Coach Academy

7 Mar

The USA Basketball Coach Academy – presented by Nike – today announced its first stop for the 2018 season, which will be on May 5-6 at Sage Hill School in Newport Coast, California. Registration is available online.

To read more visit the USAB site.


21 Feb

A good teacher can teach students anything. A great teacher helps students discover it within themselves. I think this philosophy exemplifies the definition of a mentor.

Throughout my coaching career of 30+ years, I often reflect and take inventory of the people who have served as mentors to me.  Each poured into me as a person, and as a coach, helping me to grow.  They created a balanced learning environment by allowing me to learn from them, while also respecting my need to grow individually.  Throughout the mentoring, they supported some of my ideas and vehemently disagreed with others.  Regardless, their investment they poured into me was greatly appreciated.

Serving as a mentor is truly an honor!  The role comes with great responsibility, and therefor should be taken seriously.  Mentors “pour” into the lives of their protégés to help them reach their goals, chase their dreams, and most importantly, discover within themselves the talents and self-confidence to be successful.

Through the years, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to speak at numerous coaching clinics or academies.  One such great event was the USA Basketball Coaching Academy in Portland, Oregon.  A young, female coach who heard me speak at the academy, emailed to ask if I would serve as a mentor to her as she successfully navigates her coaching career. I told her I would be honored to.

I really believe that it is important to share your experience and knowledge with others who you feel are passionate about and greatly respect the game.  It has been a privilege to have served as a mentor and spoken at clinics on this topic.

To me, a mentor is a person who is secure and confident – willing to share, educate and guide. Mentors are often training their successors.  Great leaders leave situations better than they found them by training their team to learn from the mistakes they have made.

Communication for Better Coach/Player relationships

16 Jan

Written by Kevin Sutton – Assistant Coach at the University of Pittsburgh

Genuine relationship building takes time. More than ever before, coaches have to really make a conscience decision to develop genuine relationship with their players. The ability to communicate with your players is an invaluable skill. These relationships allow coaches to earn the respect and trust of their players. Once these genuine relationships have been built teaching can take place. After proper teaching takes place, then improvement will surely follow.

Today’s student-athletes use a variety of methods to communicate through Social mediums and platforms. However, that variety does not necessarily make an individual a great communicator. I am a firm believer that coaches must reach their players on a level where they are most comfortable to truly develop a genuine relationship. These levels can be on an emotional, spiritual, academic, or social. It is also important to choose a location where the student-athletes are comfortable, such as their dorms, the coach’s home, training table and team meal etc.

In high school, I struggled learning Geometry. One day my Geometry teacher attended one of basketball games and it had a huge impact on me because she saw how much basketball meant to me. The next day in class, she told me that I knew more about Geometry than most of the students in my class. I was sure she had lost her mind. She then gave me a piece of paper with the dimensions of the basketball court on it. She started to ask me Geometry questions using lines, angles of the basketball court and I answered all the questions correctly! She met me on my level and created a teachable moment that I will never forget.

Here are some ideas that I have discussed with other coaches and have personally used during my coaching career to develop “genuine relationships” with my players. I am confident that if you try to implement some of these ideas you will be moving in the right direction of developing “genuine relationship” with your players. Theodore Roosevelt said it best when he said, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”

  • Get to know their 5 H’s (History, Hopes, Heartaches, Hero and Honey). o Work them out and help them to improve their skills.
o Invite them into your home for a meal.
o One-on-one film sessions
  • Go to their homes to reconnect with their circle of influence.
o Discuss current events to capture their attention, especially if the event touches them personally.
  • Choose books that you can share with them to read and discuss with them when they finish reading the book.
  • Create a group chat via social media. Throw out a topic and encourage the players to speak on the topic freely and openly.
  • Be observant of what your players do, what they say, what they wear & try to connect.
  • Be a great listener. Allow your players the opportunity to express themselves.

Becoming a better communicator and INVESTING in developing genuine relationships with your players will help lead your team to incredible success. We all want our players to “buy in”, however to obtain this you must get them to “believe in” first. Believe in you, your genuine interest in them, their success and what is important to them. “Believe in” is earned through trust, and trust takes time and effort.



13 Jul

Twelve Interesting ways to make pick up games more competitive
By Kevin Sutton
Assistant Coach, University of Pittsburgh

As I travel to recruit players during their “open ” gym workouts, many of these “open” gyms turn into pick up games. So as I watch these pick up games I started to think of different ways to make the games better, more competitive and more game like.

Here are some ideas that I think will really help improve your pick up games:

Read more by going to

How Bench Procedures and Time Out Management Impact the Game.

8 Oct

Written by Kevin Sutton

Assistant Coach at Georgetown University

I. Bench procedures:

– The bench must be totally engaged into the game (mentally and physically). Lack of engagement is a clear indicator to the coach that the player is more concerned with themselves than the team. Being engaged is sending a message to the coaches and the teammates that the player is ready to play and is invested in the game.

– The bench must cheer for their teammates and not sit as a spectator. The cheering must be positive and empowering. It must be the type of cheering that you would want to hear when you are on the floor.

– The players on the bench stand and extent their hand to the teammate that is coming out the game. This is a form of solidarity and a demonstration of TEAMWORK!

– The player exiting the game must “high five” with each member on the bench and pick up their water at the end of the bench from the manager and return to the available seat next to an assistant coach so that they can receive feedback on their performance. The touch and agreeing is acknowledging of their teammates.

– Never go to the end of then bench to sit after coming out of the game. This will only allow the player to disengage with the team and think of themselves. The player will invariably start to ask questions of themselves and others as to why he got taken out the game. Also by going to the end of the bench the assistant coaches can not give them the proper feedback that can be helpful to the player and, more importantly, the team.

– Be vocal, especially when the team’s defense is in front of the bench. This is a great way to start the game engaged. Communicating with your teams while you are on the bench is equally as valuable as the communication that is taking place on the court. Provided that the communication is the same and it benefits the team.

– When a time out is called, sprint out to meet your teammates who are in the game but do not cross half court (rule violation). Whether the situation is good or bad, the team must remain a team (a unit). Furthermore, it sends a message to your opponents that they are playing a TEAM and not a collection of individuals.

II.  Time outs:

Another aspect of the game of basketball that often gets over looked and is often mismanaged are Timeouts.  You can easily identify the most successful teams from the teams that do not win by their time outs. It is their structure and organization that allows for the maximum amount of necessary information to be disseminated during the timeout.  As soon as the ball is put into play you will know right away how much of the information was retained. Winning teams execute after timeouts (ATO).

Each team is given the same number of timeouts per game. How they are used and when they are used often have an impact on the outcome of the games.  I love the rules that the NBA and FIBA use regarding time outs in their games. Both the NBA and FIBA place a high value on timeouts which makes their respective games more interesting from a tactical standpoint.

There are two types of timeouts in the College and High School game; the 30 second time out and the Full time out.  Each must be handled differently by the coach so that the timeout is maximized positively and not wasted negatively.

A. 30 second timeout:

The players in the game must remain standing up and on the court. The players not in the game must remain off the court. So, it is imperative that the players in the game SPRINT off the court to the bench area.  The players in the game should remain in front of the coach standing from the coaches left to right (players right to left) 1-5 (pt.g, g, sf, pf & c). By lining up this way, the coach does not have to look around for each player, he can talk freely because he knows exactly where each position/player is in the huddle.

B. Full Time out/TV time outs:

These timeouts are longer. The managers will hand out the towels and water bottles while the coaches meet away from the team. When the head coach is ready to address the team all water and towels are taken away by the managers so that the players an give the coach their full attention. The players will sit from the coaches left to right 1-5.  Every coach should have a role during full/tv time outs: one coach should know the foul and timeout situation. Another coach should watch for changes in the opponents line ups and potential match ups. The coach responsible for the scout should assist the head coach the most during timeouts. The head manager must help to get the team out of the huddle after the first horn sounds.

III. Conclusion:

Winning is hard!  Consistently winning is even harder. The teams that consistently win have a bench procedure and effectively manage time outs with their organization. They win more games than they lose. They understand the impact that both aspects have on the game. Just watch how engaged their bench is during the game, look how the players coming off the bench perform,and finally, look how well they execute after time out (either offensively or defensively).

Rule of the 1/3

30 Sep

Written by Kevin Sutton

Assistant Coach Georgetown

One of today’s buzz words when trying to build a team/culture is “buy in”.  Every coach is trying to get their players to “buy in”. Early in my coaching career I had the unbelievable opportunity to attend a Temple University practice conducted by Hall of Fame Coach John Chaney.

The topic of the day for Coach Chaney was ” are you buying what I am selling?”. Coach Chaney said, ” if you trust me, if you believe in me and if you listen to me, then you will buy what I am selling you. If you don’t, then you won’t”.  He finished by saying, this is a fact of life. “Buy in” begins and ends with trust! “Buy in” is an indication of a person’s commitment level.

As coaches trying to get your players to “buy in” to you, your program, your style of play, your culture.  Remember the rule of the 1/3.

The rule of the 1/3 says that 1/3 of the group will “buy in” into the coaching staff right away. They trust you, they believe in you, they know that you want them to be successful. We will call this group 1.  Group 2 is the 1/3 of the team that wants to “buy in”. They do things the coach wants them to do, but they need to be convinced more, motivated more, taught more why “buy in” will not only help the team, but each individual as well.  We will call them Group 2.  The last 1/3 of the team is the group that does not want to “buy in”. They have trust issues, they question everything. They don’t believe in the coach, the process or anything about the program.  This is group 3.

Through my experiences as a coach I have learned that too many coaches focus on Group 3 trying to get them to “buy in”.  In actuality the group that the coach needs to focus their attention on is Group 2. The coach just needs to “sell” them more persuasively, or motivate them more creatively.  When the coach gets group 2 to “buy in” they now have 2/3’s of the team “bought in” to the staff, to the program, to the culture.

Now that 2/3’s of the team has “bought in” the coaching staff can focus their attention on getting 1/2 of group 3 to “buy in”. The coaching staff and 2/3’s of the team will see certain members of group 3 starting to believe in, starting to move in the direction that is more in line with majority of the team.

At this point it should clear to the coaching staff that those last members of group 3 are not going to “buy in” so they need to be “BOUGHT OUT”!  

The rule of 1/3 can be a helpful tool when you are trying to get “buy in”.